CCM alumna composes new work for American Guild of Organists’ online festival

OrganFest 2020 presented the world premiere of Brenda Portman's "Prelude and Tarantelle"

The American Guild of Organists (AGO) commissioned UC College-Conservatory of Music alumna Brenda Portman (DMA Organ, ’16) to compose a new organ work for the AGO national convention. Originally scheduled to be held in Atlanta, AGO’s OrganFest 2020 was held online in July 2020.

The world premiere of Portman’s “Prelude and Tarantelle” was performed by Amanda Mole on the Aeolian-Skinner (1935) organ at St. Malachy’s Church in New York City, and virtually broadcast via OrganFest 2020 on July 21. The performance is available to watch online.

A headshot of Brenda Portman.

Brenda Portman.

Portman is a decorated organist and composer, winning multiple awards for both her musicianship and her compositions. She received a full scholarship as first prize winner of CCM’s Strader Organ Competition and served as a teaching assistant for the college’s organ program, where she studied with Roberta Gary and Michael Unger. She currently serves as the Resident Organist at Cincinnati’s Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church  and teaches organ at Xavier University. Portman also writes original organ and choral/hymn compositions, which have won awards in the Twin Cities AGO Composition Competition, District of Columbia Composition Competition and the University of Notre Dame’s Liturgy Alive! Composition Competition.

In an interview with AGO’s Chelsea Chen, Portman shares that she has been creating and performing music for most of her life. Her mom, who played organ, introduced her to piano lessons when she was around 4 years old. Portman began playing organ in high school and made it her primary instrument when she entered college. Learn more about Portman on her professional website.

Headquartered in New York City, American Guild of Organists’ mission is to create a community for musicians who are passionate about the organ. Since its founding in 1896, the AGO has worked to advance the cause of organ and choral music and create opportunities in the field. 

The AGO cancelled its in-person national convention, but the online OrganFest 2020 was created as a “gift to our community; a gift of beauty in an otherwise chaotic time, and one that would be accessible to all free of charge,” organizers state on AGO’s website. “We very much hope that in the chaos of the pandemic and unrest these moments of beauty bring you respite and joy.”

The performances from the AGO’s OrganFest are available online.

Story by CCM Graduate Student Kelly Barefield

Featured image at the top: Brenda Portman.